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How to bond with your new dog

June 8th, 2012 | Posted by Emily in Doggies! | Fostering. | Lucy Lou | Opt to Adopt | Pit Bull Pride

As I stated yesterday, Lucy Lou’s first few weeks with her new family did not go as well as we would hope. She was stressed and acting out in a variety of ways, including play biting her new brother Chunga and having accidents in the house. Her independent nature was also making it difficult for Carrie and Jason to bond with her.

Being the awesome people they are, Carrie and Jason were willing to seek help to work on Lucy’s issues rather than just give up. I wanted to help in any way I could, so I asked my good friend Aleks from Love and a Six-Foot Leash (who is my foster guru and is currently training with dog behaviorists) for some tips I could relay to them. As usual, she offered a wealth of information for me to pass along…

Lucy Lou seems very “doggy” — that is, more interested in dogs (especially her new dog brother) than people. Do you think that’s accurate? If so, this is going to stand in the way of her bonding with the people unless they limit fun/time with her brother and up their time with her alone (at least for the short term). Dogs who are very doggy need to spend 5 hours with humans for every one hour they spend with dogs, at least while they are building their relationships. The reason behind this is that if LL believes she can get everything she needs (comfort, fun, play) from other dogs, then she won’t look to her people for it. Right now, her canine brother is probably way more fun to LL than her humans are, so she doesn’t see any particular reason to care about them or what they want from her. She needs to learn that they are more fun — and can give her everything that she wants, whereas her dog brother can’t. This seems like it’s going to be the biggest thing for LL. They should make sure they’re spending quality time playing, training, walking, and just being with each dog separately, and when the dogs are together, not letting them play inappropriately (wrestling in particular). Let them play with toys, but only under supervision. And the toy has to be given by the person, not snatched off the floor by the dog — which is part of controlling the resources. Playing with her people should be more fun, more frequent, and more exciting than playing with her doggie brother. She should only go in and out of doorways after sitting on command. She should only be allowed on furniture on command. Food should be earned through training, or can be hand-fed at the end of the day – that’s right, taking a handful of kibble in your hand and offering it to the dog to eat out of your hand, continuing until the kibble is gone. After the dog is sufficiently bonded, you can phase this out — but for the first couple of weeks, it’s a good idea. And don’t pay any attention to the dog unless it’s working for it — training, interactive play, etc.


It made total sense that she was having trouble bonding with Jason and Carrie when Chunga was such a fun playmate. Due to Turk’s issues with fosters, we kept her separate from the dogs almost the entire time she was with us. It was only natural that she was going to have an easier time bonding to us – we were her only option! Once Chunga was in the picture, she had no need for humans.

I passed along this information to Carrie and crossed my fingers. About a week later I saw an email in my inbox from Carrie…

Just wanted to give you an update on Lucy. She is doing MUCH better :). She is listening to me and I can now break her focus and redirect her. She has almost stopped biting Chunga’s face or his collar. We are currently working on her pulling and she is catching on – a lot quicker then Chunga. I wanted to send you a picture we took, not as good as yours, but cute.


I was elated! Through hard work and patience, Carrie was able to form a bond with Lucy and earn her trust. From what I understand, there have been some hiccups since then, but Carrie has enrolled Lucy Lou in a training class at the Petco she manages and is working closely with her trainer as different issues arise. She has even invited me to check out one of Lucy’s training classes sometime! It is such a testament to Carrie and her husband that they were willing to work as hard as they did with Lucy to help her make the transition into their family. I will continue to check in with her and see how she progresses so I can share with you all. But what I hope the take away from this is that bringing home a new dog requires a lot of love, patience, and discipline to work. It is not fair to expect your new dog to immediately know what you want them to do or how you want them to act. It can take days, weeks, months, or even years for a dog to finally settle in your home. Stick it out. It’s so worth it in the end!

Feel free to leave a comment with any other tricks or methods you used to help your dog(s) transition into your home! We’d love to hear from you!

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9 Responses

  • These posts about Lucy Lou are really so fabulous and ALL pet owners should read. I worked at an adoption center in the state we moved from as a matchmaker (adoption coordinator), and people never truly understood that shelter animals are NOTHING like pets raised in a stable home. They have to be taught everything from scratch. The foster world is incredibly lucky to have such a dedicated person as yourself!

  • Great post! Skye didn’t bond with me for a long time after I adopted her- she was very independent and unsure about me. Clicker training and agility were the keys for us- now she loves to work with me because she knows how much fun it is to be a team. No dog is an island!

  • What a great series! I hadn’t heard of the “doggy” concept before but that totally makes sense for some pups. It can be embarrassing when you’re going through dog adjustment periods. Props to you and Lucy’s new family for sharing their experiences in a way that can benefit others.

  • avatar Mayzie says:

    Whew! I’m SO glad that Lucy Lou ended up with a family who really wants to try and make it work. Most Luckily, I did, too. Cuz between you and me, it was not easy for me at first either. I really wanted to call my Angel Donna Fostermommy to come get me. But my paws were too big for the buttons!

    Sometimes I think peoples forget that us doggies don’t really speak your language at first. Mom read this thing saying that it would be like for humans to be picked up and put on another planet where everyone looks different than you and speaks gobbledy-goop. You wouldn’t know the rules or their customs or if you were gonna get fed or if they were gonna give you a place to pee. So you decide to make up your own rules and then you can tell that the aliens are upset with you but you don’t know why! It takes time to learn their language and what’s expected of you and whether the rules of your home planet are the same as the rules in this new place.

    I guess that’s kinda silly but it sure did help mom see things from my point-of-view and help us get over that hump!

    Wiggles & Wags,
    Mayzie

  • Oh my gosh Emily, I have tears in my eyes reading this! I’m so glad they decided not to give up on her. I can’t wait to hear updates!

  • avatar Amanda H. says:

    Excellent post, Emily. Thank you for sharing this valuable message. I suspect it will be helpful to many!

  • Aw, so glad to hear things are turning around for Lucy and her family! One thing that always helped me with reserved foster dogs is to find an activity they really, really love and make this a special activity you share with only them, and leave the other pup(s) at home.

    Teeny had NO attention span when other dogs were around. Something as simple as perfecting the game of fetch with her helped her see how awesome her foster people were 😉

  • avatar zoki says:

    i am so happy to hear that the family is making progress. i don’t have any other training tips to add. we were also advised by a trainer to have my boyfriend hand feed emma when he moved in so that she would bond with him. i do think it is so important to remember that whatever your household dynamic, you need to set up the roles so that the rest of the household understands the leadership and roles.

    and of course consistency, consistency, consistency.

    adding a training course with lucy lou is a wonderful idea. that is a great way to bond, plus a good trainer will notice things that you don’t notice because they are able to step back and observe.

  • It is wonderful to see how well a network of caring, intelligent people can work to help those who need it and kudos to Lucy Lou’s family for admitting that they needed help and asking for it. Congratulations to you for being a committed foster parent and thank you for sharing, I’ve learned alot :-)